Environment

All Share God's Household

Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock

Saint Francis of Assisi, stained glass in the church of St. James the Greater in Elba, Italy. Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock

Every year on Oct. 4 a strange thing happens outside of an ecumenical list of churches around the globe. As if each church were reenacting Noah’s Ark, a bevy of animals and their human counterparts congregate just outside the doors for a ceremonial Blessing of the Animals to commemorate the feast day of Francis of Assisi. The sight of horses, dogs, cats, birds, snakes, and pot-bellied pigs jockeying for position could be called disarmingly odd to a first timer or refreshingly quaint to the already initiated. As a follower of St. Francis myself, I would label the spectacle as revolutionary in a small way that continues to subtly permeate Christian culture to this day. Rather than celebrate the quirkiness of the ritual itself, I would like to speak to St. Francis as an icon for justice whose way of organizing and advocacy is not only rooted in Christianity, but may just provide the necessary strategy for handling a major justice issue of our time: Do all God’s creatures have a place in God’s house?

From the day Christ spoke through a cross at San Damiano Church, “Francis, go repair my household, which you see has fallen into ruin,” Francis of Assisi was called to restore God’s household. This call echoes the prophet Isaiah who called young people to restorative justice as “repairers of the breach and restorers of ruined dwellings” (Is 58:12). Scripture tells us that God’s household has many dwelling places (John 14:2): our worship spaces are contained in houses (Rom 16:5), our bodies are temples of God (1 Cor 6:19), even the Earth itself is a house within God’s household (2 Cor 5:1). The revolutionary thing that Francis appreciated about God’s household was the significance of the incarnation: Everything came to be through the Word of God (John 1:10) and the Word itself became Jesus Christ. By virtue of Creation, everything is related to Christ and a mirror to God.

Why We’re Building an Ark

Image courtesy Isaac Luria

Image courtesy Isaac Luria

On Sunday, Noah's Ark will be rolling through the streets of New York City.

Powered by a bio-diesel truck and paid for by faith-rooted climate activists, it will drive on Manhattan’s West Side alongside hundreds of thousands of climate activists calling for climate justice.

The ark appeared in a collective dream with other faith-rooted activists and organizers about how our wisdom traditions could speak to this urgent moment with radical creativity and dramatic flair.

The same old calls for action aren’t getting through. We don’t have much time to act, yet our world leaders lurch from crisis to crisis while the frog slowly boils in the pot. We are living through one of the greatest extinction in our planet’s history. And even if we did survive the Earth’s death by some technological miracle, what kind of life would that be?

We must help people see that climate disruption is real and that there are solutions. We need to help the media and our political leaders see this movement as truly multiracial, multigenerational, multifaith, and of many economic backgrounds.

Climate Change Is Happening: 4 Things You Can Do About It

wk1003mike / Shutterstock.com

wk1003mike / Shutterstock.com

The reality of climate change can be tough information to absorb, and if you’ve known for a while, it can just plain get you down. Yes, rising carbon pollution is leading to global warming. The impacts are already happening now, especially in poor countries and on our coasts. So now what? In the face of a problem on a global scale, what are we to do? Here are four suggestions.

1. Pray.

The massive scale of global warming is a reminder that we are only human. It’s overwhelming to think about and difficult to know where to start. The good news is, God is waiting for us to hand over all our burdens. This is God’s world, not ours – a perspective that can inform not only our outrage over what humans have done to the creation, but also our response. We can be the hands and feet of Christ, doing the work God calls us to do, but we are not the saviors of the world. Knowing that can be both humbling and strengthening. Prayer is a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out what to do about climate change, and it’s an equally important place to return to if you’ve been fighting the good fight for years (exhaustion and burnout are a real thing in this line of work!).

Singing Our Theology

Choir illustration, Ron and Joe/ Shutterstock.com

Choir illustration, Ron and Joe/ Shutterstock.com

The deep, dark secret of the church is that the beliefs and convictions of Christians are often shaped far more by the hymns we sing than the theological tomes gathering dust on our bookshelves. Songs are avenues for praising God, but they are also tools for imparting knowledge. Singing is a theological exercise, so the words printed in hymnbooks or flashed on screens deserve attention and reflection.

“How Great Thou Art” has been sung in churches, automobiles, and probably the occasional shower since the late 19th century. Long used in traditional worship services, many contemporary artists are offering their own renditions of this classic and adapting it for more contemporary settings. Even Carrie Underwood (no relation) is getting into the act.

This is an ode to God’s majesty and power. It testifies to the beauty created by God’s hand and witnesses to the connection between the love behind God’s creative acts and the love poured out by Christ on the cross.

The famous opening line, “O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made” sets the stage. They also easily get stuck in your head playing on endless loop.

Creation – stars, thunder, forest, birds, majestic mountains, gentle breezes, and everything else – indicates the greatness of God. It provokes wonder among us humans, forcing us to acknowledge the subordinate relationship between creature and Creator. We cannot do what God has done; our accomplishments will always pale in comparison.

'For the Beauty of the Earth:' A Beautiful Invitation

Northern Harrier, Peter Schwarz / Shutterstock.com

Northern Harrier, Peter Schwarz / Shutterstock.com

I invite you to stop reading this now, listen to a copy of the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and go sing it in celebration while walking around your neighborhood.

If you’re still with me, I’ll explain why:

Since learning the hymn several years ago, it has come to mind in many memorable places that now fill my mental landscape whenever I sing the hymn. One of those places is a park overlooking the Anacostia River near my house in Washington, D.C. Kenilworth Park was built on the site of a city dump that was plowed over 40 years ago and is now undergoing a remediation process to control suspected groundwater contamination. But despite its tainted legacy, it’s still one of the most beautiful places in Washington D.C.

The park constantly reminds me of the distance between what is and what could be. It’s full of potential, but sometimes the park’s potential is the only positive thing I see. On a recent walk through it, I came to my favorite overlook across from the National Arboretum and was momentarily struck by the contrast. The overlook is always full of trash from the river and at times overgrown with invasive plants, but this time, as I walked up, I caught a glimpse of a Northern Harrier flying along the river. I had never seen a Northern Harrier, much less so close to my house and in such an unlikely place. It momentarily caught me and my bird-watching friends breathless; we were reminded of the potential always hidden within the park.

'Praise God, All Creatures Here Below'

View from Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Harrison B / Shutterstock.com

View from Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Harrison B / Shutterstock.com

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise [God], all creatures here below;
Praise [God] above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

Words by Thomas Ken (1674)

The Doxology was my favorite hymn growing up. We would sing it every Sunday in church at the end of the service, mostly a cappella. I was amazed at the different harmonies and range in which the hymn could be sung. I loved how simple the words were. But I did not understand the words fully until well into my adult life. As a kid, I immediately disregarded things like animals, plants, insects, and fish as creatures that could praise God. Surely the act of praising God is only reserved for the sentient beings, with a conscience and the ability to say in words “praise God.” No way would God receive the praises of a mosquito, or fern or cat or pig.

It took the glory of creation itself for me to fully understand the words of the Doxology. A year out of college, I was sitting on a kayak in the middle of Doubtful Sound, New Zealand surrounded by snowcapped peaks that dropped right into the water. The sun was shining, dolphins were swimming nearby, and the birds were chirping. Then the song hit me “Praise God, all creatures here below.” I could hear the songs of praise from his non-human creatures. It finally dawned on me that my songs of praise paled in comparison to the winds that touch the peaks of mountains, the perfect songs of birds and the language of dolphins. They are all songs of praise!

Joyful Responsibility of the Commons

Mountain scenery, Nataliia Melnychuk/ Shutterstock.com

Mountain scenery, Nataliia Melnychuk/ Shutterstock.com

Many years ago, I sat in a church that resembled nothing like the church that I barely frequented while growing up. As the overhead lights dimmed in preparation for opening song, a blue-ish red hue washed over the stage to what felt like a concert opening and the following lyrics for “Indescribable” emerged on two oversized screens flanking the worship team:

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea

Creation’s revealing Your majesty

From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring

Every creature unique in the song that it sings

All exclaiming …

These song lyrics stuck with me because they remind me of how God is manifest in our natural world, where grace and interconnectedness are reflected in species that are intricately dependent on one another, and where the sheer beauty of our earth often becomes more apparent when we are able to step away from our industrialized lives and behold a starry night or a hike in the woods.

These lyrics also remind me of the part in Genesis where Adam is first put in charge of taking care of Eden and then gets to name all the animals, implying that he is responsible for them too:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it … Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals …” (Gen 2:15; 19-20).

The Groan of All Creation: Come Lord Jesus

Nature illustration,  LYphoto / Shutterstock.com

Nature illustration, LYphoto / Shutterstock.com

In these days barren fields will sprout trees

The deaf and blind will hear and see

The dead will raise and begin to breathe

The earth will groan in pain to see

The sons of God declare to be

His full and glorious family

The beautiful, perfect bride of Thee (Wash Me Clean, Page CXVI)

I am a city girl through and through — I’ve never lived outside of an urban context. Although my family lived in Queens (represent!), our church and community were in the dense and often treeless “ghetto” of Alphabet City, a neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My experiences of nature have mostly consisted of front and back yards, parks, and occasional trips to the beach or camping. And because I grew up in and spent most of my life in communities of the poor and marginalized, most of my experiences of God have centered around what Divine mercy, justice, healing, liberation, and restoration look like in the human heart.

In other words, it’s very easy for me to grasp the idea of a “New Jerusalem” or “a city whose architect and builder is God.” It’s easy for me to see the human component of God’s kingdom and what it means for people. It’s not so easy for me to imagine trees “clapping their hands” or even fully to appreciate the majesty of God’s handiwork in the stars ... because I’ve rarely seen a night sky free from light pollution. It’s not easy for me to imagine what a renewed creation would look like apart from new hearts and restored people.

Testimony: The Word Demands the Renewal of Creation

Morning blessing at the EPA. Photo by Ben Sutter / Sojourners

Morning blessing at the EPA. Photo by Ben Sutter / Sojourners

This week began in song and prayer outside the Environmental Protection Agency.

The government employees walking past our prayer circle definitely thought we were unusual; for Sojourners, though, publicly witnessing to our calling as Christians in care for creation is just another day on the job. We gathered with interfaith partners for a morning blessing to kick off the EPA’s hearings on the Clean Power Plan – an ambitious plan to curb carbon emissions from our largest source, power plants. Our goal was to show EPA and the nation that people of faith care deeply about what human sin has done to creation, and how all of God’s creation – including people – are suffering and will continue to suffer from climate change.

The next day, I was back at the EPA, this time to offer my testimony during their second day of hearings.

Pages

Subscribe